The time has finally arrived for football season in New Haven as the Holy Cross Crusaders travel to the Yale Bowl on Saturday to take on the Elis. Kickoff is slated for noon and television coverage will be provided by ESPN+.
Holy Cross has won back-to-back Patriot League championships and enters the contest with a record of 1-1. In the Crusaders’ first game, they upset UCONN 38-28 which led to UCONN’s Randy Edsall resigning as head coach. The thrill of their week one upset was quickly overshadowed by a 21-35 loss to Merrimack.
The Holy Cross offense is led by sophomore quarterback Matthew Sluka. Sluka is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback that has continued to make strides in his performance after being named Patriot League Rookie of the Year last season. Through two games, Sluka has thrown for 260 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception on 36 pass attempts (55.6% completion percentage). On the ground, he has racked up 152 yards and a touchdown on 24 attempts for a whopping average of 6.3 yards per carry. Sophomore quarterback Marco Siderman has also seen action in both contests throwing for 105 yards and a touchdown on only 7 passing attempts. Our secondary will face a critical first test in limiting Sluka’s passing efficiency and tackling him in the open field.
Junior running back Tyler Purdy is currently second on the team in rushing yards behind Sluka. Purdy has rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes for an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Purdy was named 2nd Team All-Patriot League in 2020 and splits carries with senior Peter Oliver who was also named 2nd Team All-Patriot League in 2020. Oliver is a big back at 222 lbs. that we will have to disrupt at the line of scrimmage before he gets a head of steam. This is a run-first offense that has rushed the ball on over 63% of offensive plays although that figure may be misleading as Sluka is likely to run the ball when he feels the pocket is collapsing on designated passing plays.
We expect Holy Cross to expand their passing game in this contest given that they have been studying the Harvard-Yale film from 2019. The Crusaders have a deep selection of talented and experienced wideouts to target. Senior wide receiver Tenio Ayeni currently leads the team in receiving yards with 89 yards on 5 catches. Ayeni did not appear in any games in 2020, but started twelve contests in 2019 and was named to Phil Steele’s 2nd Team All-Patriot League team that season. Senior Spencer Gilliam has started in contests since his freshman season and hauled in a 47-yard reception versus Yale in 2019. Junior Ayir Asante could be the most talented of the bunch and is a two-time 2nd Team All-Patriot League selection as well as an honorable mention Freshman All-American. Rounding out the wide receiving corps is sophomore Jalen Coker who presents a physical challenge for our secondary at 6’3” and 207 lbs.
Holy Cross’ offensive line has the size and experience to control the line of scrimmage against most opponents. Senior center and captain Nick Olsofka (6’4”, 289 lbs.) leads the offensive line and garnered 2nd Team All-Patriot League honors in 2020. The Crusaders were able to take advantage of UCONN’s injury-depleted front seven in their opening win before taking a step back last week versus Merrimack. Holy Cross was simply unable to convert on third downs (1 of 7) and consequently only possessed the ball for roughly twenty minutes in large part due to the play of the offensive line.
The Crusaders’ defense can be described as physical and opportunistic. The linebackers are the strength of the Holy Cross defense. Junior Jacob Dobbs leads the team with 29 tackles and was a 1st Team All-Patriot League selection a year ago. Senior Liam Anderson has been all over the field with 16 tackles, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. The Bulldogs will need to do a great job of getting offensive linemen to the second level to create running lanes for Dudek and company.
The Holy Cross secondary is just as deep as the linebacking corps with all four starters having extensive playing experience. Senior safety Grant Holloman has tallied 18 tackles and a forced fumble, while fellow senior safety Walter Reynolds has racked up 14 tackles and an interception. Senior cornerback John Smith has two interceptions on the season and looks to once again be named to the 1st Team All-Patriot League team. Junior cornerback Devin Haskins started in all of the games in 2020 and has 7 tackles on the season.
Senior defensive end Benton Whitley is a two-time 1st Team All-Patriot League selection that is off to a solid start to the season with 9 tackles. Senior Dan Kuznetsov is yet another 2nd Team All-Patriot League selection from his defensive end position. Senior defensive tackles Jason Modak and Noah Johnson provide a physical presence on the interior of the defensive front and Modak hauled in an interception against UCONN that he returned for 29 yards. Questions this off-season have swirled around how the new interior of our offensive line will perform and this matchup against an experienced defensive line will serve as the litmus test.
As Coach Reno mentioned in his newsletter, Holy Cross’ specialists are among the best in the Northeast. Senior kicker Derek Ng has been perfect on field goals and PAT’s to start the season. Junior punter Patrick Haughney is averaging 39.3 yards per punt with a long of 48 yards against Merrimack.
We look forward to reconnecting with all of you at the Bowl on Saturday. Let’s go Bulldogs!